The updated and newly approved coronavirus vaccine has arrived in Long Beach.

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the updated COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. The new injection, which “more closely targets circulating variants,” is approved for children 6 months and up as well as adults, according to the FDA.

“Going into this fall season, I think it is important to get the COVID-19 and flu shots,” Long Beach Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said Tuesday. “We all need to do what we can in order to protect ourselves and our families in our community.”

Previously, the federal government purchased the coronavirus vaccine and distributed it to hospitals and health agencies across the country. Today, however, the vaccine has been commercialized, meaning it is distributed from the manufacturer directly to health providers, Davis said.

The vaccine will be available at city clinics for people 12 and older beginning Thursday, Sept. 21. Doses for patients under 12 won’t arrive until Wednesday, Sept. 27.

The government did purchase some doses for uninsured and underinsured people. Those doses are available through the health department as well as pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens. Insured people can get the vaccine at pharmacies or through their primary care doctor, Davis said.

Anyone 5 years old and up, regardless of previous vaccination status, are eligible for a single dose of the new vaccination as long as it has been at least two months since their last inoculation, according to the FDA. Children ages 6 months to 4 years who were previously vaccinated are eligible for one or two doses of the mRNA vaccine.

Unvaccinated children aged 6 months to 4 years are eligible to receive three doses of the updated Pfizer vaccine or two doses of the updated Moderna shot, the agency stated.

“The FDA is confident in the safety and effectiveness of these updated vaccines and the agency’s benefit-risk assessment demonstrates that the benefits of these vaccines for individuals 6 months of age and older outweigh their risks,” the organization said in its announcement.

And there are risks, a fact that Davis does not shy away from, but all of them are “exceedingly rare,” she said.

Some of the risks were specific to certain vaccines, such as thrombosis with the discontinued Johnson & Johnson shot. Others can occur with any of the vaccines, including anaphylaxis and myocarditis and pericarditis, which have been seen mostly in young men in their late teens and early 20s, Davis said.

Some of the side effects of the vaccines, however, can also be the result of COVID infection, Davis noted, including myocarditis and pericarditis.

“The safety effects have been studied more than any other vaccine,” Davis said. “So when you look at what the havoc that COVID has caused and the hospitalizations, the deaths and long COVID, the scales weigh in the direction of getting vaccinated.”

It is also important to remember, Davis said, that there is a risk of adverse side effects with all vaccines. The reason they have not been seen on this scale before is because of the sheer number of vaccines given in a short amount of time, rather than them being doled out slowly as children are born, for example.

As new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue a slight uptick (remaining at historical lows), Davis said safety measures such as washing hands regularly and staying home when sick should be common practice. But getting vaccinated continues to help in the prevention of COVID infection or keeping symptoms mild, she said.

The vaccine also reduces the chances of long COVID, Davis added, which can have an array of symptoms like chronic cough, shortness of breath, mobility issues, neurological issues, chronic fatigue, cognitive issues and psychiatric issues such as anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances.

“That is an area where we are actively pursuing knowledge,” Davis said.

Moving forward, Davis noted that COVID-19 is here to stay. It will be part of the annual respiratory virus season along with the flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus, she said. The coronavirus, however, remains more dangerous than the others. That said, Davis added that the most serious cases continue to be in seniors over 65 and the very young.

Like the annual flu shot, there could be a new coronavirus vaccine each year depending on strain, but Davis said it remains to be seen.

“I think we’ll have to wait and see,” Davis said. “We need to see how COVID is going to look, what the variants are gonna do—that’s what really drives whether we need a new formulation. But that is how it’s been going so far.”

To get the vaccine, contact your primary care doctor, visit a pharmacy at Walgreens, CVS or Rite Aid, or visit a city clinic beginning Sept. 21—or Sept. 27 for anyone under 12:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Park Central Facilities Center (1133 Rhea St.), Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (Shots for children ages 6 months to 11 are only available Saturdays.)
  • El Dorado Park West Recreation Center (2800 N. Studebaker Road), Monday-Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with new information from the city that doses for patients under 12 would not be available until Sept. 27.

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.